The Write Way to Experience a Writing Convention

Long time, no blog. But with promoting Villain – up on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers – as well as my new job and moving, I’ve been a blog slacker. The motivation hasn’t been there, and for that, I apologize.

However, thanks to last week, the motivation has returned.

Every summer, Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, hosts a wonderful writing convention called In Your Write Mind. My best friend, Carrie, had asked me to attend with her since she graduated from their MFA program six years ago, but alas – my health kept me grounded in Maryland. But this year was different, and after a four-hour ride through the mountains of Pennsylvania, we magically arrived at what is literally a modern-day Hogwarts:

Seton Hill

(I mean, seriously. This picture isn’t mine, but everything looked like this.)

The entire campus was gorgeous, and while we stayed off-campus at the Courtyard Marriott about three miles away (which I highly recommend for any convention or getaway – how can I complain about a free shuttle service, a great gym, Starbucks in the morning, and a bar by the firepit at night?), we spent a lot of time upon these grounds, and particularly within this building, where most of the panels and hang-outs were scheduled:

Seton Hill conference center

(Let’s just say I was grateful for the sunshine that weekend, though I was far more grateful for the friends I made!)

For the record, I did not attend Seton Hill to receive any of my degrees. I went to York College, Hood College, and Johns Hopkins University. So when Carrie and I arrived, I was honestly worried. I was a stranger in a strange land, where everyone knew everyone else, and even though I’m a thirty-six-year-old human (well, Cylon, we think…), I still worried that I had to prove myself as a person and as a writer.

But that was not true at all.

I wish I had a way to explain the camaraderie that just naturally occurred at this convention. As a writer, I feel as though there SHOULD be words to explain it. But there are not. From the moment I signed in and was handed my registration packet, I was friendly with several other graduates, writers, and committee members. I’d slathered myself in makeup and put on a cute dress as though protecting myself from strangers by wearing a suit of armor. And it was completely unnecessary. For the first time in a LONG time, I was accepted just as I was – amnesia, synesthesia, DID, and all. No one questioned me. As one of the heads of the committee later told me, “I thought you’d always just belonged here.” And those words mean the world to me.

The first night was relaxed – after checking in, Carrie and I spoke to several people, and then made our way to Starbucks (a frequent stop) as well as to pick up some supplies for the weekend. We also made cute baskets for the In Your Write Mind raffle – the baskets get auctioned off for a wonderful scholarship fund, and we were happy to take part. And we decided to have great fun with it and do a good and evil theme based upon my newest book, Villain. Guess which basket I put together… 😉

IYWM 2018 1

(To steal words from an old song: “If you don’t know me by now, you will never, ever, ever, ever know me…”)

Friday was the first full day of the convention, as well as a chance to meet two wonderful agents – Linda and Queressa – as well as a wonderful editor, Allison. We were also fortunate enough to have a guest author, Paul Tremblay, who writes fantastic horror stories to scare the (almost literal) shit out of you. His work is excellent, and his newest work, The Cabin at the End of the World, is out now, so go buy it already! But of course, pitching to new agents is an enjoyable yet worrisome task. And I have a new book all lined up, but the question is always about perception after a six-minute pitch. How would an agent or author I’d never met before take to it? I thought about this as I waited to pitch a story that had a ten-page outline but only one thousand written words:

IYWM 2018 3

(Me, on the left – or port, as I call it – with Carrie on the right. This was about ten minutes before our pitch sessions.)

Both agents were absolutely wonderful people and, without revealing anything too personal, the pitches went well and I look forward to the upcoming months!

That evening, we were fortunate enough to attend dinner with the agents and editor, as well as committee members. I’m not certain if I have the permissions to post that picture from dinner, but it happened, and it was wonderful.

And then we prepared for the storybook ball.

By “prepare,” I mean, “Try to arrive at nine which is NEVER going to happen so hope that ten p.m. is sufficient, and oops, we brought space-related costumes instead.” Carrie wore a gorgeous Milky Way galaxy skirt, and I went to my old standby – I mean, hey, whatever works, right?

IYWM 2018 9

(I will obliterate your planet if you screw with me. Gaius Baltar, you have been warned.)

The ball was fun, but I was exhausted (and those six-inch heels HURT). Still, it was a great chance to unwind, network, and meet more wonderful people. By the end of the night, I felt as though I’d made lifelong friends, and I’d only been on campus for about 36 hours. It was also nice to spend a bit of time talking to our amazing guest author, Paul, about everything from beer to books to, well, Battlestar Galactica. Thanks for walking us back to the car, too, Paul. My feet and ankles appreciate it.

Saturday was a day with workshops, writing modules, author lunches, guest panels, and, that evening, a book signing with 25 authors. Oh, did I mention that I was one of the guest authors? I was. And because I’m an amnesiac and believe in taking pictures of everything, gaze upon my evidence:

IYWM 2018 16

(My table, complete with coffee. I also appreciated the “this is one of our authors and these are the genres in which she writes” sign, so, to whoever made that, thank you!)

I moved plenty of copies of both Shattered and Villain Saturday night, chatted with some wonderful writers, spent time next to my very best friend, talked to people about what amnesia is really like, and by 9:30 p.m., I was exhausted! But there was time for one more photo that evening before returning to the hotel for dinner and drinks:

IYWM 2018 19

(Hanging with the amazing horror writer and smart-ass extraordinaire Paul Tremblay. I don’t know which one of us was more exhausted by this point, but since Paul travels more, I’ll hand the award over to him.)

Sunday was our last day, and there were tears. And yes, I mean actual tears. I cannot emphasize enough how much this convention gave me a sense of family. I was suddenly part of what they called their “tribe.” And when we were all hugging goodbye, we were crying because this was it: Facebook, Twitter, and blogs only convey so much. Gone were the Starbucks trips, the jokes about space pants, talking about the TARDIS, laughter about shitty first drafts, stories about everything from kids to travels to how, as a person with synesthesia, I could see everyone as a color when they spoke (a curiosity, but one I was happy to indulge because it made everyone else so happy!). I was also granted permission to help with the event for 2019, and look forward to getting my hands dirty with the committee to make IYWM 2019 an awesome celebration of our craft.

Conventions are always hard to leave, and when we leave them, we get the con blues (or “con crud”). I’m still recovering from that, but what I HAVE recovered is my passion for my art form. I have also discovered that I can belong in a place where, at first, I thought I’d have to put on a front to be accepted. And that wasn’t true at any point. The overall acceptance as a writer, a friend, and as a person is something I will treasure forever.

To my new family, our guest agents, our guest editor, our guest author, and to my best friend who brought me along and allowed me to be part of this world: thank you. That was how a writing convention should be. I love you all and am truly grateful for the experience.

But now, I have a manuscript to work on. What is this story about? Why am I scrambling to write 30 pages so quickly?

I guess I’ll have to blog again soon with more details. Stay tuned. I’m back, and the passion to write, create, and be exactly who I am without fear or doubt flows throughout me once more.

Thank you again to everyone at Seton Hill. You are now family, and I am honored to be among you.

To buy Shattered on Amazon: Click for the true story of this amnesiac right here.

To buy Villain on Amazon: Click for this collection of essays about good and evil right here.

See you all again next Thursday.

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